Peter reminds his female readers that fashion had not changed throughout the generations as far as spiritual clothing is concerned. Indeed submission arising from a gentle and quiet spirit has marked all holy women.
I suppose if there is one Old Testament woman whom we might suspect was not submissive it would be Sarah. After all, did she not suggest to Abraham that he use her maid Hagar and obtain a son? And did she not later on insist that Abraham expel Hagar and her son Ishmael from the family compound? Sarah does not come across as a weak person. Nevertheless Peter chooses her as the example of feminine submissiveness and refers to her response to her husband – she called him ‘lord’.
As far as I know, there is only one occasion in the book of Genesis when Sarah calls Abraham by the title ‘lord’. It is found in Genesis 18:12, on the occasion when the Lord had come to Abraham’s tent and informed him that his wife would bear a son the following year. Sarah, who had been listening in, ‘laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?”’
Often we focus on her wrong laughter and fail to notice her affectionate assessment about her husband. She calls him ‘my lord’ in her heart. Peter deduces from that example that Sarah had this attitude throughout her spiritual journey, that although there were times when she influenced her husband in a wrong way, nevertheless she still retained her respect for him.
It is also important to observe that she retained this attitude even although Abraham had twice failed her in a very public way when he was prepared to let her be a member of the harems of Pharaoh and Abimelech in order to preserve his own skin. She retained the attitude that God wanted her to have even if, at times, her husband showed that he did not deserve her respect.
I wonder if that is what Peter has in mind when he writes in verse 6 that these women will be Sarah’s children ‘if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening’. Sarah was put into situations that were frightening but does not seem to have been afraid in them. Think of some of them: she was asked by her husband to leave a good life in Ur of the Chaldees and make her way into the unknown; she had seen her nephew Lot captured by invading armies and her husband setting off to try and rescue him; she had lived for decades in an environment that was hostile to her faith; she had to wait for years before God kept his promise to give them a child. Despite all these difficulties, Peter says that she did not fear in frightening situations.
Think about the women to whom Peter was writing. It looks as if they were facing persecution for their faith in God. In addition, some of them had unconverted husbands. Only divine grace could ensure that they would live without fear. Often throughout church history women have shown that this was possible. Peter urges them to be like Sarah and voluntarily submit to their husbands even although they were living in dangerous times for those with unconverted husbands.